Thirty Years On: February 1988

Welcome to another edition of TYO, with another batch of albums and singles released sometime in February of 1988 (as far as I can tell).  After the quiet calm that usually starts Q1, we’ll start hearing more classic tracks and albums, many of which still get played to this day.

Peter Murphy, “All Night Long” single. A teaser for his upcoming second album, Love Hysteria, this one definitely set the tone for Murphy’s new sound. Where his debut record (1986’s Should the World Fail to Fall Apart) was strange, angular and reminiscent of his last few years with Bauhaus, the new album was more mature, layered, and warmer in tone. This first single hit college radio and 120 Minutes and became a mainstay for months.

Jerry Harrison, Casual Gods. The Talking Heads drummer’s second solo album was a favorite on AOR stations and featured session greats such as Robbie McIntosh and Bernie Worrell.

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, Globe of Frogs. While Robyn had always maintained a strong following since his Soft Boys days, this particular album seemed to be the turning point, in part thanks to his signing to a major label, A&M. “Balloon Man” would get heavy play on AOR and college stations, and still gets played on alternative stations now and again.

Wire, “Kidney Bingos” single. Another teaser single, this time for Wire’s second comeback album A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck. Many fans who’d missed out on Wire’s original late 70s post-punk run (like myself) jumped on the bandwagon with their 1987 comeback The Ideal Copy and this album, which the band themselves called their ‘beat combo’ era. Their songs are much more melodic and straightforward this time out, but they’ve retained their inherent arty weirdness with fascinating soundscapes and off-kilter lyrics.

The Wedding Present, “Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm” single. Released as a stand-alone single after their George Best album from 1987, this track is indicative of the Weddoe’s classic jangly pop-punk sound that gathered a small but loyal following.

Abecedarians, Resin. A southern California band with a unique sound that was equal parts goth, spaghetti western, and post-punk. Not too many had ever heard of this band, but those who did swore by them religiously. Highly recommended if you search long enough for their small but excellent discography.

Various Artists, Salvation! soundtrack. A fascinating soundtrack to a rather bizarre cult movie about a skeezy televangelist that features multiple tracks from New Order, including the above. [Note: the ‘movie’ scenes in that video have nothing to do with Salvation!; in fact, the video director made the entire plot up just for the song.]

Various Artists, Sgt Pepper Knew My Father. British music mag NME created this interesting if sometimes questionable recreation of the classic Beatles album as done by numerous mostly-UK bands of the day, as a charity album for their runaway hotline Childline. For every fantastic cover (such as the above, The Wedding Present’s “Getting Better” and Billy Bragg’s “She’s Leaving Home”) there are a few stinkers in there (a half-assed rap take on the title song by The Three Wize Men and a weak “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Christians). And then there’s the outright weird Frank Sidebottom doing “Mr Kite”. Still, it’s a curiosity worth checking out just to get a feel of what UK pop sounded like in the late 80s.

The Woodentops, Wooden Foot Cops On the Highway. A band that could conceivably be compared to Belle & Sebastian nowadays, this band played a mix of quirky folk and rock that began with the quiet but stellar Giant in 1986 and morphed into a more boisterous sound a few years later. This album sank without trace soon after, but the band has made a comeback with an excellent cd collection of their 80s output (2013’s Before During After) plus an album of new songs a year later (2014’s Granular Tales).

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More soon, including THAT PARTICULAR SONG. You know which one I’m talking about…!

Thirty Years On: January 1988

Hello and welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On, in which we take a look at that year I have an unhealthy obsession with.  Heh.  This episode features the few albums I have solid release dates for!  Hope you enjoy!

The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death, released 11 January. Much-needed Brit-punk in a season of American hardcore, these guys channeled the Clash and mixed it up with a bit of garage punk psychedelia, creating a fantastic blend of kick-ass rock and a solid album from start to finish. Highly recommended for your collection.

The Fall, “Victoria” single, released 11 January. The Fall’s mid-80s output was surprisingly upbeat and melodic, even despite singer Mark E Smith’s eternal crankiness. A wonderful cover of the classic by the Kinks, and a song that still pops into my head at the mention of that queen or the underground line.

The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, released 18 January. The album that also features that perennial Christmas classic, The Pogues’ third album was a huge favorite for the AOR stations in New England. I believe I owned this as a dub from my British exchange student friend for a time before I finally owned it on digital many years later.

Recoil, Hydrology, released 25 January. Essentially a solo experimental project by Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder, it’s an interesting album worth listening to, especially if you’re a big DM fan. Take all the cold industrial-synth sounds from that band’s mid-to-late 80s albums, take away Martin Gore’s lyrics, and this is what you’re left with.

George Harrison, “When We Was Fab” single, released 25 January. Okay, it’s not college rock, but it was an ex-Beatle! The second single from 1987’s comeback album Cloud Nine, this one’s an obvious and loving nod to his past.  I used to listen to this single repeatedly when it came out.

David Lee Roth, Skyscraper, released 26 January. DLR’s second post-Van Halen album was a surprisingly mature and experimental affair, focusing more on the rock and less on the flash. I particularly loved this wonderful ballad featuring some fantastic guitar work from Steve Vai.

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Next Up: February 1988!

Thirty Years On: Random January 1988

One problem with going into a chronological overview like this is that sometimes it’s hard to pin down a release date. Quite often, before the Tuesday release date plan started up around 1988-89, labels would drop an album with minimal fanfare and a ‘soft release’…basically putting it out there whenever it just happened to be ready to go.  I’m sure someone at the label office has the date on record somewhere, but they’ve never made it known.

The downside to this is that sometimes one can only guess when it dropped. Sometimes the band will have a rough date (though that’s a big if — most bands will have little to no idea), but more often it relies on someone’s memories. I’ve managed to narrow down some dates due to my memories of listening to them during a specific timeframe, or that it was on the charts at a particular time, or that one of their songs appeared on a mixtape I’d made on a certain date.

That said…here’s a few releases that, to the best of my knowledge, came out in January of 1988.

Hugo Largo, Drum. Predating the quiet minimalism of early Belle & Sebastian and the off-kilter melodies of later Bjork, Hugo Largo’s strange alt-folk was embraced fully by the college crowds. Some of it might seem a bit too twee or precious now, but it’s still a fascinating listen. They were championed by Michael Stipe, who definitely helped them gain a following. Also: check out a fantastic cover of the Kinks’ “Fancy” from the same album.

Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, “I’m Tired of Getting Pushed Around”. A band with a longer name than their discography — this one single. Essentially Andy Cox and David Steele (formerly of The Beat, and at the time part of Fine Young Cannibals), they dropped this one house track that found its way through dance clubs and even a music bed for Entertainment Tonight segments. It’s a silly throwaway track, but it’s a classic one.

The Other Ones, Learning to Walk. You may remember this band from their late-1986 self-titled album and the minor radio favorites “We Are What We Are” and “Holiday”…or not. They were a bit of an obscure pop favorite on the US shores, and alas, this second album was never released here. I only recently found it online, and I’m kind of surprised at how good it actually is. It’s definitely of its time, but it holds up quite nicely to the first album.

Lowlife, Swirl, It Swings EP. If that bass sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Will Heggie, the original bassist for Cocteau Twins. They’re kind of similar to The Comsat Angels or Joy Division.

Moev,Yeah Whatever. One of those bands on the Nettwerk label I always had a hard time locating back in the day, they were sort of an EBM-goth hybrid that reminded me of a less aggro Front 242.  They’d get a lot of college radio airplay thanks to “Yeah Whatever” and “Crucify Me”. Definitely an album to have in your collection.

Next Up: More January releases, this time with actual release dates!

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.